Strycharz v. Cady

Decision Date15 November 2016
Docket NumberSC 19507
Citation148 A.3d 1011,323 Conn. 548
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties Joseph STRYCHARZ et al. v. Richard D. CADY et al.

Albert L. J. Speziali, with whom, on the brief, were Thomas J. Keramidas and Paul Costa, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

Scott R. Ouellette, with whom, on the brief, were James G. Williams and Ryan J. McKone, for the appellees (defendant town of Colchester et al.).

Rogers, C.J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.


The named plaintiff, Joseph Strycharz,1 commenced this action against the defendants Karen A. Loiselle, the superintendent of schools for the town of Colchester, Jeffry P. Mathieu, the principal of Bacon Academy (school), a public high school in the town of Colchester, Dale J. McCubrey and Ross Sward, assistant principals, William D. Hettrick, John Mazzarella, Elizabeth A. Ciccione, Linda M. Hodge, and Andrew C. George, Jr., members of the Board of Education of the Town of Colchester (board), and the town of Colchester (town), among others,2 after he was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Norwich Avenue and the school's driveway on the morning of September 20, 2007. The plaintiff sought damages from the defendants for negligent supervision of school staff and students during school hours and indemnification from the town for those defendants' negligence pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 2007) § 7–465.3 The town, Loiselle, Mathieu, McCubrey, Sward, Hettrick, Mazzarella, Ciccione, Hodge, and George, among others, moved for summary judgment, claiming, inter alia, that governmental immunityshielded them from liability.4 The trial court granted the motion with respect to those defendants as to the counts directed at them after concluding that their duty to supervise school staff and students was discretionary, and, as a consequence, they were shielded from liability by governmental immunity. Although the trial court concluded that the responsibilities of Mathieu, McCubrey and Sward also included a ministerial duty to assign school staff to supervise students during school hours, the court also determined that they, too, were entitled to summary judgment because the undisputed evidence established as a matter of law that they had discharged that ministerial duty. On appeal,5 the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly granted the motion for summary judgment. We agree with the plaintiff that the trial court improperly granted the motion for summary judgment as to McCubrey and Sward with respect to the plaintiff's claim that they breached their ministerial duty to assign school staff to supervise students during school hours. We uphold the granting of the motion for summary judgment in all other respects.

The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The school is located on Norwich Avenue in Colchester. Norwich Avenue is a two lane, bidirectional, undivided state highway approximately thirty feet wide with an average daily traffic volume of approximately 5600 vehicles in front of the school. Although the posted speed limit where the school is located was forty miles per hour, approximately 15 percent of vehicles travelled at speeds near or above fifty miles per hour.6 To enter or leave school property, pedestrians used a crosswalk located at the intersection of Norwich Avenue and the school's driveway entrance. Because the school's student body had grown to about 1000 by 2006, the intersection was the site of heavy traffic on school day mornings and at dismissal time.7 The entire student body arrived each morning in a span of approximately twenty minutes, resulting in heavy vehicular traffic from school buses, student drivers, and parent drivers who were dropping off their children.8 Despite the heavy traffic and congestion, the intersection had neither a traffic light nor a person directing traffic, and the relatively small number of students who walked to and from school had to traverse Norwich Avenue unassisted.

For some time, the safety of the intersection in front of the school had been a matter of concern for the town and school administrators. In light of these concerns, in the spring of 2006, Loiselle and Jenny Contois, the town's first selectperson, organized a committee of school and town administrators and local and state police officers to address traffic and pedestrian safety at the intersection. The committee undertook an initiative that called for, inter alia, the cutting and trimming of trees to improve sight lines at the intersection, continuing education of student drivers about safe driving, petitioning the state to install a traffic signal, and continuing regular police enforcement of speed limits in the vicinity. In addition, the initiative expressly directed Loiselle to investigate options for hiring a traffic agent for the intersection. Sometime after the committee was formed, Loiselle, at the request of the board, contacted the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency (CIRMA), an insurance carrier for the board and the town, and requested, among other things, that it assess the need for a traffic agent at the intersection. In response to Loiselle's request, Jeffrey Rogers, CIRMA's risk control consultant, assessed the intersection and made several recommendations, including a recommendation to use a trained traffic agent and to install signs at the entrances to the crosswalk that would advise pedestrians not to enter the roadway until it was safe to do so. Thereafter, the board reviewed CIRMA's recommendations and, on June 19, 2007, instructed Loiselle to contact the town's police commission “regarding a shared responsibility for the crossing guard/traffic agent.” When Loiselle addressed the police commission on July 23, 2007, she indicated that there was “an immediate need” for a crossing guard at the intersection. The police commission agreed that a traffic agent at the intersection was needed but informed the board that the town would have to shoulder the cost. On August 15, 2007, the board voted to hire a traffic agent for the intersection, with one member noting that “this was a small investment for ... student safety.” The traffic agent could not commence work, however, until the new budget was approved in October, 2007.

In the meantime, the school maintained an ongoing student supervision program designed to enhance student safety. In accordance with that program, Mathieu was responsible for assigning school staff to supervisory duties throughout the school. As part of the program, two staff members were assigned, on a weekly rotating basis, to the bus port, both in the morning and in the afternoon. One of the reasons for the morning duty was to ensure that arriving students did not leave the school premises and safely proceeded directly into the school building. Instead of assigning school staff members to their posts personally, Mathieu delegated that duty to McCubrey.9 According to McCubrey's deposition testimony, she drafted a duty roster each summer before the start of the school year and then provided it to school staff members. The roster informed staff members about their assigned dates, times and respective posts, and advised them of expectations and responsibilities with regard to their duties, including the bus port duty.10

In the summer before the school year commencing in the fall of 2007, however, McCubrey was out of work on medical leave. As a result, McCubrey prepared the outlines for the duty roster and submitted them to Sward's office, where, as McCubrey explained, the outlines may have been “tweaked” further.11 She was unable to identify, however, who had received the outlines or what happened to them following their submission to Sward's office. Nevertheless, McCubrey insisted, both in her responses to the plaintiff's interrogatories and at her deposition, that the roster had been finalized and distributed to the staff by the beginning of the school year.12 No copies of the outlines or the actual roster could be located, however. In addition, the school was unable to produce the names of persons assigned to bus duty on the day of the accident or during the two weeks immediately preceding it.

The plaintiff followed a regular routine on school days beginning on September 5, 2007, the first day of the school year, and continuing until the day of the accident on September 20, 2007. The plaintiff took the school bus every morning and arrived at school at 7:15 a.m. On most days, upon his arrival at the school's bus port, the plaintiff would walk back to the crosswalk, traverse Norwich Avenue to leave school grounds, and smoke a cigarette before returningback to the school to attend classes.13 During that two week period culminating on September 20, 2007, the plaintiff observed “many” other students who had taken the bus to school smoking cigarettes in the same area. At no time, however, did he see anyone from the school staff at the bus port during that time, and no one ever directed him to go into the school building or attempted to stop him from leaving school grounds.

On the morning of September 20, 2007, the plaintiff, who had just begun his freshman year, took the bus to school, and, while on the bus, he and his friend, Alexander Lily, decided to have a cigarette before going to class. The boys agreed to leave school grounds by crossing to the other side of Norwich Avenue even though they knew that doing so without explicit authorization violated school policy. Once at the school's bus port, the plaintiff and Lily conversed momentarily and then proceeded directly to the crosswalk at the intersection of the school's driveway and Norwich Avenue. As the plaintiff was crossing Norwich Avenue, however, he was struck by a vehicle driven by the named defendant, Richard D. Cady. According to the plaintiff, no school faculty or staff members were visible at the bus port, and no...

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  • Brooks v. Powers
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • February 2, 2018
    ...harm exception to discretionary act immunity. That exception, which we have characterized as "very limited"; Strycharz v. Cady , 323 Conn. 548, 573, 148 A.3d 1011 (2016) ; "applies when the circumstances make it apparent to the [municipal] officer that his or her failure to act would be lik......
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    ...whether the plaintiff was ... [a] member of a foreseeable class of victims." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Strycharz v. Cady , 323 Conn. 548, 575–76, 148 A.3d 1011 (2016). We have thus far found this condition to be satisfied only in the case of schoolchildren attending a public schoo......
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